October 20, 2005,
Strategists working with the White House in support of the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers are becoming increasingly demoralized and pessimistic about the nomination's prospects on Capitol Hill in the wake of Miers's meetings with several Republican and Democratic senators. On a conference call held this morning, they even discussed whether Miers should simply stop visiting with lawmakers, lest any further damage be done and so that time spent in such get-acquainted sessions will not cut into Miers's intensive preparation for her confirmation hearing.
The strategists discuss issues on a twice-weekly conference call led by Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society who has taken leave to help the White House shepherd the nomination through the Senate. A number of people who have taken part in the calls described the conversations to National Review Online. None wanted to be identified, because they do not want to openly oppose the White House or defy loyalists like Leo who are trying hard to defend Miers. Nevertheless, they paint a grim portrait of morale among those close to the nomination.
"The number of participants is declining," says one knowledgeable source. "With Roberts, these calls occurred five or six or seven times a week. Pretty early on, the calls on Miers were scaled back to twice a week. That says something in and of itself."
"It's been a gradual descent into almost silence," says a second source of the calls. "The meetings with the senators are going terribly. On a scale of one to 100, they are in negative territory. The thought now is that they have to end....Obviously the smart thing to do would be to withdraw the nomination and have a do-over as soon as possible. But the White House is so irrational that who knows? As of this morning, there is a sort of pig-headed resolve to press forward, cancel the meetings with senators if necessary, and bone up for the hearings."
"They are going to be keeping the meetings that they've already scheduled," says a third source. "But they have scheduled murder boards today from 12 to 5. She has to focus on her hearing. And the questionnaire that wasn't filled out, to me that's an indication [the White House] hasn't done the vetting. She has to spend a lot of time discussing stuff that should have been done before. So between those two things finishing the questionnaire and preparing for the hearing, which is going to be make or break they prefer to put her time into that."
"In the early days, there were people on the call who tried to give facile defenses of Miers, and they were immediately shot down," says a fourth source. "And by the way, those defenses weren't as insulting as the White House line no way would they have done the 'sexist, elitist' line."
In summary, says the first source, "People have been looking for ways to support this. There are a lot of us who would like to find a reason to be encouraged. Every time I try to accommodate myself to this nomination, folks at the White House say idiotic things that piss me off, like that spin on Rove's part about her supposed deep involvement in judicial selection for three years, which is just not accurate."
"Demoralization and pessimism?" the source continues. "That's been a constant. We're in the various stages of grief."
Byron York, NR's White House correspondent, is the author of the new book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time.